Group Fights Long Beach Airport Growth

Public comment recently ended on a draft Environmental Impact Report covering proposed terminal improvements at Long Beach Airport, but not before one of the project's biggest critics took its chance to file questions on the report.

The nonprofit neighborhood group, LBHUSH2, which has stated goals to protect and improve the quality of life of Long Beach residents with advocacy, has focused recently on city plans to increase the size of the airport terminal to accommodate passenger growth.

The group's efforts have drawn criticism, especially by a counter group, the Long Beach Alliance, which argues LBHUSH2 has been unrealistic in its efforts to control airport growth.

In its draft EIR response, LBHUSH2 argues there are several serious flaws with the report and for future debate has hired a law firm.

Among LBHUSH2's arguments are than the EIR does not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, endorses a project that paves the way for airport operations to increase in the future and does not provide reasonable and feasible alternatives.

Q: Why did LBHUSH2 hire an attorney?

A: As you know, we're not scientists. We needed expert responses rather than the scoping meetings the city was holding with residents coming up asking questions and getting no answers. We were very disappointed as we went down to the City Council, when the sizing (debate) was held and voted on and part of that was to have (included) a health risk assessment that wasn't done at all and it was very, very disappointing. We talked to people knowledgeable about EIRs just to make sure we did the best we could to represent the neighborhoods. It was prudent to hire an attorney that was knowledgeable in these things. They all have attorneys and everything and residents need to be represented in some way.

Q: The focus has been on noise but what are other major issues surrounding the airport?

A: While noise is obviously the thing that we all experience, air quality is a huge, huge thing. Noise we live it, hear it, suffer through it. However, air quality is huge. Our air over the (Los Angeles) basin and the air over Long Beach is the second worst in the state. That's disgraceful. The Chamber of Commerce continues to want to grow that airport and shows no concern about the protection of the public. They are on record for not caring for the neighborhoods. They are there to protect commerce.

Q: If you had a magic wand to make the airport what LBHUSH2 wanted, what would that be?

A: I don't know if that's answerable at this time. First I would have to wave that magic wand and find out how much air pollution is coming from those operations. If we really knew that, we could make some educated plans for the future. We need a good EIR. That's the first step of good planning.

Q: Some believe that LBHUSH2 and the Long Beach Alliance are actually not that far apart in their thinking. Is this true?

A: I think LBHUSH2 is looking at the whole picture, and the alliance or JetBlue, are looking at a portion of the picture that benefits them and puts money in their pockets. We're the citizens here in Long Beach and we want to see it improved and be all it can be, but at the same time, we live under that airport and (experience) the impact it brings to us daily. The only thing we have protecting us is the noise ordinance. The alliance says to protect the noise ordinance the same as us. How to do that? Set some sort of airport litigation fund, funded by the airport users themselves, to forever protect against any challenges to the noise ordinance.

Q: To accomplish your goals, do you foresee filing a lawsuit at any point?

A: I don't know. That's yet to be determined. That is an option, no doubt about that. Whatever the appropriate action is needs to be at the point of time when the final EIR comes out.

Q: The Southern California Association of Governments is on record as saying a regional solution is needed to handle growing air travel demands in Southern California. But it's also acknowledged that Long Beach Airport is capped by the noise ordinance and so solutions should come from Ontario and Palmdale, among others. Does that make you feel secure Long Beach will be left alone?

A: As long as there's an airport, there always will be an opening. Long Beach is a very, very inviting place to fly out of now. They're doing a better job than any other airport. Everybody knows we're going to have more flights out of the Southern California basin. It's a given. Where to expand to is part of the question. SCAG has said in the past that Long Beach is going to have to grow. They're on record. The FAA has said Long Beach is going to have to increase their capacity.

So it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when we'll be challenged. The "if you build it, they will come" hasn't been addressed in the EIR. Only a minimum should be built. Anything more than that will encourage more flights. (The other) side says if you don't build it, they will sue us. That is the most stupid thing I've heard of. The city owns Long Beach Airport. If the city wants to, they can shut it down.

Q: How have LBHUSH2's positions been perceived or reported by the media, in particular the Press-Telegram?

A: I don't think our message has gone out since the beginning of our cause. At the beginning, we were identified as a very small, vocal minority group. Specifically, the coverage of the Press-Telegram has not been done accurately. The latest and best example was the headline that came out after the release of the draft of the EIR, stating that bigger is better. Bigger is not better. (Quoting the draft EIR:) "The proposed project does not result in substantially greater impact." The key word is substantially, so of course it does increase impact. So the Press-Telegram spun that into bigger and better, which is totally untrue.

Q: Along those lines, what's been the most frustrating part of leading LBHUSH2 and the whole airport expansion debate?

A: It's been frustrating. Again, I have to put the Press-Telegram in the top two or three things. The Airport Advisory Commission, in my perception, is a stacked deck of cards with mostly non-impacted airport residents. They're appointed by a mayor backed by the Chamber of Commerce that wants growth and wants to see the convention center full of people and Long Beach (become) a tourist mecca. Nobody wants to talk about the environmental impacts.

Q: Some have described the Long Beach Alliance as pro-business and pro-airport growth. What do you think?

A: I think that's accurate. I think they are pro-business, pro-growth. Why expand the airport if it's not putting money into their pockets at the expense of the residential neighborhoods around the airport?

Q: Do you think the airport issue and EIR will be handled differently considering the city is in the middle of elections?

A: Good question. I know all the candidates for mayor are addressing it one way or another. All the candidates are saying they strongly support the noise ordinance but no one has come up with a plan on how to protect it. Nobody has talked about how big (the airport) should be. No one is talking about the number of (ticketing) gates or the number of (plane) parking positions that should be allowed. Those are things that can determine the size of the airport. There are two council districts totally impacted by the airport. It might be notable that both (former council members) were voted out of office because of their stance, or non-stance, on airport growth.

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